School Climate Archives - Linda Inlay
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The Hidden Curriculum of Schools

The hidden curriculum of schools is not noticed by its educators, just as a fish is unaware of the water that surrounds it.  This hidden curriculum  teaches students every moment of a school day, taught by the school’s culture.

D. Laing said:

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.

And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice,

there is little we can do to change;

until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

Educators fail to notice what messages are being sent by the school’s culture and in failing to notice cannot see unintended messages that students receive.

  • A teacher shouts to her students, “DON’T SHOUT.”
  • Educators, while encouraging their students to have a growth mindset of embracing mistakes as opportunities to learn, don’t model the essential aspects of having a growth mindset; e.g., if they are afraid to model making mistakes or taking risks.
  • The school has a rule about not using, “You’re so gay” as a put-down while students notice that teachers don’t hold students accountable for this demeaning epithet when they hear it in the halls during recess.
  • A teacher makes Johnny apologize for his part in a conflict when Johnny doesn’t feel apologetic and, thus, Johnny is made to lie.

When a school staff embraces the practice of noticing, of becoming aware of the disconnect between their words and their actions, of becoming aware of the disconnect with the intended outcomes and the unintended messages to students, they have the power to transform their school culture and climate to support its mission and vision.

In order to have a school embrace noticing, there needs to be structured time to stop the busy-ness of data collection, teaching strategies, and assessments to pause and notice the messages that students receive, not what the school intends.

For instance, if a school’s Honor Roll Assembly is intended to celebrate successes, it also has an unintended message to those who didn’t make the Honor Roll that they are less than; they are failures. However, if also included in the Assembly is an open mic for students to share their personal successes, however small they may be, they learn that small steps toward improvement are valued, too. Students at my school routinely would share, “Last semester, I received an F for science and this trimester, I am up to a D” and everyone cheered to acknowledge the progress made. The assembly becomes then a celebration of any students who have made progress. When a student shares, “I tried for two years to make the Honor Roll and this year I finally did,” he is also sending a message about perseverance that all students can attain.

PLC, department, and whole faculty meetings can begin by carving out some time in their meetings to take a look at a particular practice and ask: “What is our intended purpose for this practice?” and then reflect from a student’s point of view, “If I were student, what are the messages I might be getting?” Since there are a variety of students, it would be useful to reflect on the messages from different students’ point of view – the disengaged one, the second language learner, the overachiever, the introvert, the special needs learner.

A hard-working successful student recently said to me, “School feels more like a factory than an educational place for well being and learning. We’re not treated like people; we’re more like machines producing grades.” She attends a highly rated school where caring teachers work hard for their students to do well. However, what messages are being sent by the school’s culture that result in her and her friends feeling this way? How intentional is the school in inviting students’ to share how they feeling? Are there assessments that seek to get student input for all aspects of the school?   These questions can support a staff in routinely noticing what they perhaps haven’t noticed before.

 

“There is little we can do to change;

until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

Adopting a School Climate Survey

linda-inlay-school-climate

Those of us who have been talking for years about the importance of school culture or school climate and how it can improve student achievement, are heartened by the inclusion of this topic in the national conversation about school improvement. ESSA’s requirement for a non-cognitive measure in assessments has encouraged school climate to be a serious focus of consideration.

 

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools recently shared its findings of the “robust relationships” between school climate, teacher retention, and student achievement. And Education Week published a blog by the U.S. Department of Education who released a free, web-based survey that schools can use to track the effectiveness of school climate efforts and resources on how to best improve learning environments for students.

 

I’d like to offer in this posting some considerations before deciding on the school climate survey for your school or district.

 

Understanding what motivates students and adults

 

One of the challenges mentioned in the Research Alliance policy brief is how schools will use the data gleaned from a school climate survey and the “how” relates to the quality of the survey itself. If the survey is not grounded in understanding what drives intrinsic motivation of students and teachers, then the interventions to address particular concerns revealed by the survey will less likely produce long-standing results. A school climate survey and its recommendations for interventions will be more effective in shifting climate if it is based on more of an “inside out” approach. This approach should encourage genuine individual responsibility and self-discipline and create a context where basic needs, like the need for caring relationships and the need for sense of self or identity, are met for students and teachers alike to support intrinsic sources of motivation. Otherwise, like so many other educational initiatives, school climate will be another thing to check off the ESSA list, rather than being a systemic, deeply rooted effort to improve school climate.

 

 

Mindsets and Modeling of the Hidden or Implicit Curriculum of School Climates

 

From my forty-two years of being an educator and the last eighteen as principal of a middle school, I have learned that students know when teachers or administrators “don’t walk the talk.” As Neil Postman said in his book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity,many years agostudents have great “crap” detectors.   This means when teachers are teaching about respect or self-awareness or resiliency or growth mindset; if they are not “being” or modeling these qualities, students are able to spot the lack of authenticity.   School climate interventions are not just about techniques, but also about the modeling by the adults of the accompanying mindsets while teaching, for example, the techniques of restorative justice or PBIS. These mindsets are a significant element in the hidden or implicit curriculum of the school climate. Very little intention and attention is spent in teacher or administrator preparation programs or in professional development to become aware of unconscious mindsets that may not support the espoused mission and values of a school. The quality of mindsets may account for why the same social emotional programs work in some schools and don’t in others.

 

 

Authentic Student-Centeredness 

 

Some school climate surveys don’t include student surveys. I believe this is a huge omission. Especially in middle and high school, students want to be taken seriously and they want to be heard. Much of what happens to students is being “done to them” by adults who make most of the decisions. When a school climate survey takes the students’ opinions into consideration, important data is gleaned from the schools’ “clients.”

 

The Research Alliance recommended two school climate surveys: one had no student survey included and the other’s student survey was limited in the data that would help schools support students’ intrinsic motivation. For example, missing were questions like how much do students have trusting relationships with their teachers, or how well do faculty listen to students, or how empowered do students feel because their schools encourage their voice. These kinds of questions reflect an adult mindset that looks at students not as “objects” to whom the newest educational initiative is imposed, but as important partners co-creating a climate that nurtures their needs to build a stronger internal capacity to succeed.

 

I caution schools to evaluate carefully the available school climate surveys for the aforementioned considerations. In my search for a climate assessment to use with my nonprofit, I have found one I would recommend:

 

The School Climate Assessment System and Surveys from the Alliance for the Study of School Climate at California State University of Los Angeles is rated the best of the school climate surveys by an independent study and has a sound theoretical framework that supports long term change. Their system and survey are built on a systems approach that require the following for a healthy school climate:

1/ a collective vision and shared values held and nurtured by a committed administrator who “walks the talk.”

2/ an understanding of and commitment to shifting staff mindsets with the implementation of strategies that build trust, empowerment, and engagement.

 

While considering school climate is a big step in the right direction of school improvement, it behooves administrators to look carefully at the quality of the school climate survey in order to effectively shift the climate and culture in their schools so it truly lives in the administrators, faculty, and students.